On January 16, 2023 Martin Luther King Day...

"Dozens of volunteers from organizations around the Conejo Valley welcomed about 75 kids to the Reagan Library in Simi Valley with encouraging cheers and big smiles as they hopped off the bus to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a “Peace Day” event.

The youths, ages 5 to 12, are part of the Safe Passage Youth Foundation program, a nonprofit dedicated to mentoring kids and deterring them from gang activity.

On Monday morning the children were given matching yellow T-shirts that read “Peace Day.” They were put in groups of about 10 students and two mentors.

The day consisted of speakers, videos and activities intended to promote the idea of being peacemakers.

“It’s about ingraining how all of us are powerful enough to be peacemakers,” said Mary Olson of the Rotary Club of Westlake Village, which sponsors Peace Day. “With diverse volunteers and kids, it’s about making them feel loved and special.”

Peace Day was first held three years ago but was put on hold due to COVID-19, making this the second annual celebration.

Olson said a Rotary executive was there to see how the event could be replicated in other communities.

Among the community leaders present were Supervisor Jeff Gorell, Conejo Valley school board trustee Cindy Goldberg and Dianne McKay, former Ventura County Community College District trustee.

Regina Biddings-Muro, Cal Lutheran University’s vice president in charge of advancement, was day’s keynote speaker.

She brought up groups of Safe Passage members to answer questions such as what makes a good friend and why education or role models are important.

Her presentation was followed by live music by the Trek Tones, art projects like making a peace necklace with Art Trek, a Chick-fil-A lunch and more.

Kimberly Garcia, 9, of Acacia Elementary said she has been in the Safe Passage program since she was 6.

The fourth-grader said she enjoys the comfort and friendships she’s attained through the organization. She sat at a round table with other kids enjoying chicken nuggets during the lunch break.

“Everyone is being nice to each other and having fun,” Kimberly said.

Her favorite part was participating in arts and crafts while Trek Tones performed.

“Our goal is to show community,” said Sgt. Damian Alvarez of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office. “Collaborative efforts give you the best solutions.”

Alvarez is vice president of the Safe Passage board and has been involved since 2017.

Most Safe Passage events like Peace Day are done in partnership with Conejo Recreation and Park District, Los Robles Health System, Art Trek, CLU and various Rotary clubs.

Alvarez said most of the program’s funds are from private donors through community connections and some state grants.

“This is all because of Tim (Hagel). He knows how to bring people together. We wouldn’t be here without him,” Alvarez said of the former sheriff’s commander and Thousand Oaks chief of police, who founded the program." Acorn, January 25, 2023 Cytlalli Salgado